INTERVIEW WITH TIM KLEMONSKY
INTERVIEW BY JIM MURPHY
INTRODUCTION BY JIM MURPHY
Wow. Big Tim. Where do you start? One of the punkest things I ever witnessed was at a tradeshow/Black Label party with Big Tim. When the band came on, Tim decided that they weren’t punk enough, so he stood dead center on the front of the stage and arced a piss right on the feet of the band. The band members didn’t even flinch and kept on playing. Now that’s partyin’. Tim’s a cocksman, a referee, a band manager, a heart attack survivor, spoken word enthusiast, beer aficionado, and one hell of a skater. He also finds time to build some killer skate structures between his trips to Costa and Maui, brah. Check out one of Simsbury’s finest, Tim Klemonsky. If the beer doesn’t kill him, skateboarding will.
“SOME PEOPLE WENT THERE TO PROVE THEMSELVES. WE WENT THERE TO PROVE THAT WE WERE ON VACATION.”
What’s up, Murf? How have you been?
Good. Did the lottery run yet?
No. It doesn’t run until 11 p.m. I’m hoping to win. I’m betting on this one. This is going to be the one.
I heard you were already a thousand-aire.
No. I’m strictly nickels and dimes.
Let’s start at the beginning. Where did grow up?
I was born in Greenwich, CT, then crossed the tracks into Simsbury and found this drained pool and started skating. These other guys were like, “Hey, do you like punk rock?” I was like, “I don’t know what the hell you’re talking about.” Then I saw a skateboard magazine and started draining pools. The rest is history.
What year was that?
That was ’82 or ’83. I’m not sure. I was kind of dirty. I didn’t hold a pen behind my ear to write it down.
Was this the same time that you were on the Simsbury little league hockey team?
Who was on that team?
Sloppy Sam was on it. His dad was the coach. Sam never tied his laces, so we were always like, “Don’t let that sketchy dude on the ice. He’ll ruin it for us.” Then we realized that we sucked. Merk was in his Rambo phase, so he duct-taped a knife to the end of his hockey stick. He’d go in and start the fight. I was the big Polish kid, and I was kind of tuned into those guys. I was like, “Fuck these dudes. Yeah. Fuck this bullshit.” I didn’t have any pads, so I would just go and start fighting. We never really made it too far in the hockey program because the coach found alcohol in our bags. We had heart, though. I remember one of our high school teachers said that we were the most uncoordinated people he’d ever seen.
How did you reconcile that with skateboarding?
It was pretty much, right on the money.
What was the scene like in Simsbury? Were you building ramps back then?
Fuck, yeah. As soon as we could build a fort, we were building ramps. At one point in time, we had 18 ramps. They were all exactly the same.
[laughs] Were they Ego Busters?
No. They were eight-foot wide, eight-foot tall vert ramps. It was, “Put your pads on” at some houses. Some houses were like, “Nah, man.” Occasionally, you came across the mini Animal Chin bullshit. We had a lot of heart, but not a lot of smarts.
Who was the Simsbury crew?
Sam, Merk, me, Bato, RadDog, Hotsauce and Trash. There were a couple of other derelicts like Dark Helmet. There were some heavy-hitters.
Are we talking late ’80s? Was this when the magazines were fully into vert?
We’re talking from ’86 to ’89. From ’83 to ’86, I’d never even seen a skateboard magazine. I was a country bumpkin. Some of the guys had seen the magazines and they were way up on the times, so they’d let us know about it. I just liked to catch the feeling under my feet. You know what I’m saying?
Right. You were still doing flat wall.
Yeah. We didn’t learn roundwall or how to work with concrete until we got a little desperate.
You had the late ’80s and skateboarding was going off, and then street skating hit.
We got kicked out of the Playground for throwing toys around. Then we went over to the Skate Hut in Providence. That’s where the whole Rhode Island scene opened up. It was unbelievable. They had this killer little bowl. That’s where I first met ChickenHawk, Bugsy, Sid and those guys. Entry fee was a six-pack. I was like, “This place is cool. Fuck the Playground. We’re done playing with toys. Let’s play with beer.”
So you got to skate with Freddy Smith?
Yeah. That guy was epic. He was like the first big pro guy from the area. He was sailing over the ramp. We were like, “He’s getting it going.” We were just chuggin’ beer and watching him. Then I remember the Skate Hut turned their bowl into a street course, but the flat bottom was a grid like you’d find on a sewer drain. I don’t think the street course really ever took off.
Why do you think they did that?
I don’t know. You’d have to ask them. I would have never done that. I would have kept that bowl until the day it died. I’d have never given into street skating. Sorry.
Did you ever get into street skating?
Out of desperation, definitely. I was lipsliding curbs and going down hills. I never got into the ledge stuff. I tried the big gap jumps to prove myself, because I’m Polish, but I never got into grinding handrails and shit like that. That shit is gnarly. I have to give it to them, but I don’t see the outcome as being as fruitful as cruising a pool or cruising a snake run. That’s so much more gratifying. It feels good on the body. All those guys jumping up and down rails, I mean, God bless ’em. If that’s your thing and you really feel like that’s what you should do, maybe you should join the circus or something. I really don’t know.
[laughs ] It seemed like in the early ’90s, everyone moved up to Vermont for the Cutting Edge.
Yeah. That was the only bowl left. Before that, we were at Newberg. We skipped a whole generation. That’s when I started skating with you, Murf. I remember it was like heavy metal. We were jumping around. I remember seeing Choppy Omega show up. He changed his shirt like, 20 times. He was all nervous. He was real good back in the day. You were real good. Everyone was real good. I remember just trying to be cool. Then we moved up to Vermont. We had this really secluded scene with an enclosed bowl and no one could touch us. We had time to develop and harvest ourselves. It was cool.
You moved to Vermont just because they had a bowl?
Well, no. You could drink beer and people were cool in Vermont. It was a laid back lifestyle. You didn’t have to deal with the yuppie lifestyle of Southern New England. It was really nice. People are really good to each other up there. It’s hard to beat, just cruisin’ and drinking beer. I remember one time Bato and the boys got a 1988 Delta over a 13-mile mountain pass in the middle of winter. The road was hard packed because of the snowmobiles. It was 30 below out on 13-mile mountain pass. There were no neighbors, no nothing. We made it and had the most incredible session down in the pit, ever. It was the sickest thing I’ve ever encountered. I thought we were going to die. I told everyone that I was ditching them and running if we got stuck. We got stuck a couple of times, but we got back out. It was gnarly. We were in the middle of nowhere in the wilderness of Vermont. That’s what happens when you’re hardcore. Those guys really do it right.
So you Sam, Bato, Merk and Sam moved to Vermont?
Gaucho and Brad Green went up there, too. There were a bunch of dudes. Our town was getting too built up from insurance money. Yuppies were moving in. We were like, “This place blows. Too many laws.” So we moved to Vermont. In Vermont, you can do what you want.
Were you building anything then?
Stratton Mountain asked if we could build them a ramp. Then we built a couple of other ramps. We did one at Charlie Hadd’s house and a few others.
What made you move back down south to Newport?
I had this chick and she was pretty hot. She wanted to move to Cape Cod with her sister. She was like, “This is the way life ought to be.” I was like, “This isn’t the way life ought to be.” We had that conflict for a couple of years. Then bingo. My life took over and she left. Everyone blamed her. I blamed myself. It’s a love story. What do you want? That’s when I decided that skateboarding and beer were more important.
More important than chicks?
Well, more important than chicks that demand you to live their lifestyle. It’s like, if you don’t respect me, than I don’t respect you.
Beer and skateboarding take precedence over everything else?
Well, not over everything. There’s a lot more to life than skateboarding and beer drinking, but they’re pretty fun. It’s hard to beat. I’ve tried to beat ’em a couple of times. Besides skydiving and winning the lottery, not much beats drinking beer and skating with your friends.
When did you hit Newport? Was that when Skater Island was built?
Yeah, I moved from Cape Cod, where I was like Jack Tripper living with three chicks. I said, “I’m going to help build Skater Island.” So I moved to Providence. Iggy Talls, Steve Lepper was picking me up and we were cruising down there and getting the job done. Everything was going good. Then someone got murdered on my front step in Providence. I ollied over the blood and said, ‘Let’s move to Newport.” So we moved to Bellevue Avenue. The chicks in Newport got the better of my girl. She felt intimidated and I felt aggravated. Don’t hate. Celebrate.
So you were working with Twister on the park?
Is that where you learned how to build roundwall?
Well, Merk and Bato had figured out how to do roundwall back in the day, but it was sketchy. The first producer of knowledge into my brain was Twister, then Dave Leather, Mike Cruz and Steve Ellis. The guys like that really harvested it for me.
When did you work with those guys?
I went out to California and worked on the Gravity Games stuff with those guys. This guy, Jack Murphy, was in charge, but it was Dave Duncan’s crew. I just hopped on and tried to stay afloat. I was basically sucking dick left and right just to hang on.
How was it working with those guys?
They’re awesome guys, but they’re cutthroat. Everyone is looking to keep their jobs. They’re like, “I don’t want this glory ride to end.” But it’s not really a glory ride. You’re more like a carnie.
Did you work on Bob’s ramp?
I worked on it for a couple of weeks with Dave Leather. Dave taught me how to do corners and Mike Cruz taught me how to do the layering. We had a couple of classic good sessions. We saw Peter Hewitt and Bailey and those guys skate it. That guy Bruno that lives with Bob is a real ripper. I was pretty impressed by his riding. It was a real positive feeling over at Bob’s ramp. I did a little work over at Volcom, too, but I only got a pair of jeans. I just kind of wiped my ass with ’em.
What happened there?
Nothing. It was a weekend of work and we got promised a walk through or some thing like that. Whatever. I got a pair of jeans. When you’ve got millions of dollars, you don’t have to pay anyone.
Why would ya?
It’d be stupid.
So you were on the road with the Gravity Games?
Yeah, Jason Speers had a big involvement with that. He got me into the program. It was cool working with guys like Mike Barnes and Eddie Reategui. Those guys are all great guys.
Any good road stories?
Well, one time we were building a park for Dave Mirra. I walk into town and it’s 105 degrees out. I said, “I hope there’s a bar next door, so we don’t have to travel and get DWIs.” Luckily, there was this killer bar right next door. We used to drink there every night. Then this dude, Mike Kelly, got out of line one night and started running his mouth. You know how micks can get. No big deal.
Yeah, I know how micks can get.
Yeah, Murphy. I was like, “No way.” This guy was being such a punk. So I walked Mike across the street. Then these guys, these two muscle heads, show up in a Corvette convertible. These guys were pretty big. They definitely took steroids and had zits all over their forehead. I was like, “You wanna fuck with us?” You know how I can get pretty worked up.
Next thing you know, they’re hopping out of their Corvette. Mike Kelly was tearing the driver and I was tearing up the passenger seat guy. I stopped beating him up for a minute and I yelled, “Call the dogs out.” Then Albuquerque brought his dogs out. The muscle head guys freaked out. There were ten guys from the ramp crew running out from their hotel rooms. Then the passenger guy hopped in the driver seat and put it in reverse and ran right over his buddy. He busted his leg open and all that. They took off and we were throwing beers at them and calling them names, just like jocks. But it kind of felt good. The next day, we went out to dinner and the guys’ girlfriends said, “Could you stop picking on our boyfriends?”
What were the last projects you were doing with the Gravity Games?
Those guys wanted to set up Ride New Hampshire, which is some bullshit park right outside Philadelphia. It’s like, “Let’s open a skatepark right next to Phillyside.” That makes sense. I’m not really a business smart guy obviously. I deal with nickels and dimes, but those guys opening skateparks right next to skateparks don’t make much sense. At Ride New Hampshire, you had to deal with Bif the local mountain biker going, “All right. That’s really cool. We’re way into you dudes.” I don’t know. I’m not really into that kind of shit. I just built this dumb bowl. Ride NH is cool, but it’s like going to skate with cops. Killer. I’m skating with cops. That sucks. I’ve got the most epic skatepark, but I’m skating with a cop.
How did you get away with getting granite in there on that little flat vert wall?
Albuquerque and I really pushed it. Albuquerque did all the nice needlework on that one. He was talking about Jason Case and this granite thing they had going on. I’m like, that’s not a bad idea. The granite went all the way to Groton. They’ve got a nice granite lip. Granite is nice New England stone. It’s a nice grinding thing. It’ll eat your truck alive.
Nice. Were you thinking that you’d like to start your own company?
Well, it’d be nice to do that, but I’d rather lay it on someone else’s hands. Customers can be tough sometimes. Of course, you’d like to have your own gig sometimes.
After that, what was the first gig that was all your own?
Well, I laid back and did a couple of mini ramps for a couple of people. Then I got a job building a snowman pool for this guy in Taunton. Now I’m doing Dave Audley’s work up in Taunton.
Tell me about the Taunton tomato.
It’s big. You can really get up there in that thing. It’s not like your average cradle. It’s more like a horseshoe.
Why was it built like that?
It’s a 100-foot halfpipe with a bowled end going into it. I didn’t want to put a hip in it and screw up all the lines. I wanted you to be able to shoot into it at 100 mph and not have to avoid a hip. A lot of the cradles are like, “Oh, man. I’m going to do a 50-50 and then I’ll do the cradle.” I think that’s kind of gay. I want to be able to shoot at the cradle at a 1000 mph and be able to think, “Maybe I don’t want to do the cradle. Maybe I want to go on this tomato and eat shit.” I don’t know. Do whatever the fuck you want. I just thought a hip right at the end of it would get in the way. I decided to go with a horseshoe kind of cradle. It ends up looking like a big tomato.
How much of a pain in the ass was that to build?
You know those cereal commercials with all the bowls of cereal stacked on top of each other? They say, “You haven’t had your TOTAL.” Well, I didn’t have any cereal, but I had bowls of wood dust. I shit right. I’m still regular from that bowl. I ate a lot of sawdust. You’re eating sawdust, and people are going, “When are you going to finish?” And you’re still eating sawdust. It’s hot and you’re miserable. But, whatever. If somebody can have a good time in it, then it’s all worthwhile.
Do you like having your own company?
Yeah, it’s not bad. I’d like to hire some of my friends and keep the ball rolling.
Let’s talk about lifestyle. After the hammers and tool kits get put away, I understand you have quite a nightlife. Let’s get into what’s going on with the beer tent phenomenon that’s been going on.
Well, beer tents aren’t really a nightlife kind of thing. Beer tents happen on a weekend away from everyone. It’s cosmic. All the stars in the universe align. It’s like you’re in the center of the universe. Think about it. What better place to be than to be in the middle of a beer tent with all your best friends, screaming your heads off. It really is a good time. There’s skateboarding, and then there are beer tents.
What about Carbondale and the beer tent that went down there?
That was a big trip.
I want to hear about the beer tent and the forest fire that you fought.
Well, me and Justin Turps were pretty hammered one night. We knew that some skaters had lit a fire up on the hill. We thought that was bullshit, because we thought some farmer would lose his crop or something like that. So we decided that skaters don’t respect working people, so we were going to go put out the fire. We ran up the hill, through trenches, almost breaking our legs, wasted out of our minds. I mean, we were really wasted. We were going to put out the fire. We weren’t going to let this farmer lose his crop. We started chucking dirt on this fire with our hands. Next thing I know, there were dudes trying to handcuff us. We were like, “No way! We’re in the Narragansett Fire Company. We’re going to put this fire out!” They were hi-fiving us, and saying, “It’s cool. We got it under control.” The thing that sucks is that whoever lit that fire gave skateboarders a bad name. I hope they’re never welcome back in that town again. It’s rad that Monk and those guys built that shit, but it sucks that somebody fucked up some farmer’s year of hay to feed his cows. That fucked up somebody’s whole year. That guy probably has kids and they’re hungry and shit like that. At least I was there trying to put out that fire. Fuck whoever lit that fire. I hope they rot in hell. I hope they come across me someday.
Was there no redemption in the beer tent that day?
Well, we had to rub elbows with some of the gnarly skateboarders that day. I had to rub elbows to get to the beer. We wanted to get behind the bars. They thought I was Dan Drehobl, so I went for it. Next thing you know, I’m getting pretty wasted. Then Bud Bear was there. Then we were all getting really fucking wasted. Then it was like, “Beer fucking tent. Beer fucking tent!” They had 17-year-old girls serving beer. It was out of control. It was the dizzy scenario of the center of the storm. It was the eye of the storm. You ever seen a hurricane develop? It was right there. It was the eye of the storm right there. Then this band Nihilist started playing Motorhead, and Turps went down and ruined the whole scene. He was a one-man pit. It was a one-man disintegration of the entire party.
It was a good time. We were on vacation. Some people went there to prove themselves. We went there to prove that we were on vacation. We were partying.
I hear you’ve been referring some parties lately.
Well, Newport is a rowdy town sometimes. You’ve got the sailors, the queers, the jocks, the skaters and the punks. It’s a typical, poor town. I’m pretty much the only cowboy in town. So I put on the referee outfit. The thing is, people are going to try to fight a cop or a jock, but they’re not going to fight a referee. A referee is always right. People aren’t going to fight the referee or they get kicked out of the game. It was a beautiful night. I stopped six fights that night and then got kicked out of the game.
Were you throwing flags?
Yeah, I was throwing flags and red cards. You name it.
I heard some guy was riding down the street and some chick was following him.
Yeah, I ran up to her and gave her a flag. I gave her a 15-yard penalty and kicked her out of the game.
[laughs] What did you say to her?
Game absconda. You know. The whole nine yards. Watch NBC.
No shit. Are you a part of the 5.9 crew?
Oh, yeah, those guys are epic.
Tell us about the last 5.9 party.
The last 5.9 party, a lot of 5.9 members missed it. They fucked up. There was a 20-23-year-old slip-n-fight contest. It turned into a mud fight, ripping panties off, rug-munching contest, right in the middle of the mud pit. It was the best thing I’ve ever seen. I got to control the hose. I really lived the dream. I don’t want to seem like a perv’ but, oh boy. It was awesome.
Punk rock chicks in bikinis?
Tattooed twats. All day kid. Johnny Cardash.
I hear you’ve been a road manager for Big World. What was that like?
Those guys are pretty interesting, man. They’re the real deal. It’s like, if you want to go road manage for a big gig like Motorhead, you’d probably be let down. If you want to road manage for Big World, it’s not a let down. You know what I’m saying? You learn more. Or when they’re managing you, they learn a lot about you. It’s a team effort. When you get on the road, you stay low and you keep moving.
What were they paying you the big bucks to do?
To be a pirate and to be a cowboy.
Were you running chicks and drugs for them?
No, those guys run a tight ship. It’s was more like, “Who’s going to manage the manager?”
I heard the drummer wanted you out of the band.
Oh, the guy with the lisp? He had to go. He was just worried that the band was going to fall short of higher expectations. We had to consult with higher authorities that realized that we were a punk band. He didn’t really understand the meaning of skateboarding, reckless, punk rock, I’m sorry I don’t get straight A’s. I’m sorry my parents don’t like me. Get it?
That’s the definition of Sid Abruzzi.
The only thing I can define Sid Abruzzi with is balls. Straight up balls. Big balls.
What’s your comment on silly pink bunnies? I heard you had some run-ins.
Well, everyone’s got their little gang. You’ve got the Daggers. You’ve got 5.9. I don’t think there is anyone else. The Silly Pink Bunnies are trying to rule too many zones at once. We picked New England and we’re proud of it. ECRW is like mid-East coast. You’ve got Team Glug down south. Then you’ve got some AZPXers in AZ. Everyone gets so touchy about their bullshit. But I’ll tell you what. 5.9. I can’t wait until we’re MC. That’s what I’m talking about. Where we really put it on the line. Fuck this. Everyone can be in a skate club, but a skate club doesn’t threaten your life. I want to be MC where we get threatened.
You’re feeling it, aren’t ya?
Why wouldn’t I? I’ve got it tattooed on my arm.
You’ve got a 5.9 tattoo?
Yeah, it’s a sword going through a skateboard and a skull. It’s got Freddy Smith’s symbol with an upside down cross and the Water Bros. crown with a hat. You know the whole deal. Keep the boys happy.
What’s your duty now for the future?
Get Newport skateable again and make everyone stop playing softball.
[laughs] Are all the skaters in Newport playing softball now?
What do you think of Chris Collette?
Collette is one of the nicest guys I’ve ever met. He’s one of the nicest guys you’ll ever meet. Collette will not put up with any bullshit.
This ain’t a bullshit game here, boss. Bullshit happened in 1989. I’ve been putting up with that for 17 years. We’re over it, brother.
What started all the bullshit?
In 1989, skateboarding was bullshit. People started playing with their boards and stopped riding the fucking things. I hate to be a judgmental skateboarder, but fuck that. If you can play with it, fine. Ride the fucking thing. Carve it. Ride it until the wheels fall off.
Just like your relationships?
Yeah, my apologies to all the girls. I feel bad.
To all the girls you’ve loved before.
“I don’t know what’s right or wrong. Let the devil take tomorrow, but tonight I need you now.”
Is there anyone you want to thank?
Yeah, I’ve got a lot of people that I’d like to thank. I appreciate my family for being as tough as they are and being as good as they are. I appreciate the Connecticut hardcores. I appreciate everyone born in Vermont and everyone that understands Vermont. I want to thank everyone from the East Coast and maybe a dozen guys on the West Coast. Does that make sense?
Is there anyone you want to tell to fuck off?
Nah, if they’d not fallen, I’d have never known them. I’m an angel flying too close to the ground, man.
Well, Tim, we wish you all the best.
I really appreciate you giving me this interview, so I could speak my mind to the nations of America. Hopefully, someday I’ll have all their votes.
If you’re elected to office, what will you do?
I’d light fire to everything. Naw. I’d just try to open up all the beaches.
You have to keep surfing, man.
Surfing’s not bad. It’s a good way to understand that you want to skate. I was on this wave and I was thinking, “This is fucking lame.” It’s like riding down a 2-foot driveway. I can understand why, when the surf gets big, they get excited. Like, “Wahoo! I rode that wave.” In reality, it’s all about getting grinds on coping.
What do you think of surfing in general?
It’s a good retirement sport. Wait until you’re older.
Is that what’s up with snowboarding for you, too?
Snowboarding has to develop a new binding before I get back into it.
We’re waiting for ya.
Well, I’m not waiting. I’m drinking.
What was it like having a heart attack?
It’s pretty much like leaning against the bar talking to a chick, and then all of a sudden, you see stars and you’re still trying to talk to the chick, trying to be smooth. You’re like, “Hey.” Then all of a sudden, you keep saying “Hey. Hey. Hey.” The next thing you know, you’re on the ground pissing and shitting yourself. Then you go, “What happened?” And they say, “You’re all done, kid. You’ve got to go sit down now.” So I quit smoking. I don’t know. I’m not a perfect human being. I really wish I could be. I’m just not good at it. I keep fucking up. If I could listen to everything and be programmed, I’d be awesome, but I’m just not a program person. I don’t understand anything. I like being healthy, so I take a couple of days off. Then I take a couple of days off. You know what I mean?
You go huge.
Yeah. I go huge.
Is skateboarding the only thing that keeps you alive?
Actually, yeah. It is. Wow. Yeah. It really does come down to that. I just want a skatepark. I wish Newport could get one. It’s a cool town. All I want to do is just cruise by a beach and have a six-pack a night and work hard all day. I’d be the happiest person in the universe.
Thanks a lot, Tim.
Thank you, Murf. Thanks for giving me the ear and the time. Thanks to Flaherty and sister of Flaharty. Thanks to the hardcores in my family, and anybody who ever bought me a beer. Thanks to the 5.9 Crew and Water Bros.
I appreciate the time you’ve given us. You finally got a land line phone, which is pretty epic. I never thought I’d see that day. I figured I’d give you call while that thing was still in order and not disconnected.
Give it a month. Until I ride with you again. Cattleboro. Next time. Tail grabs.
I’m proud of ya, Tim.
I’m proud of you guys. Let’s ride together soon. Peace.